Monday, April 15, 2013


Why is New York State Testing a Curriculum It Hasn’t Even Delivered Yet?
By Susan Crawford

Starting this week New York State students from grades 3-8 are expected to take tests on a Common Core curriculum that they have not yet been taught.  If there was ever a case of “the emperor having no clothes,” this is it!  Actually, another “naked” analogy came to mind for this situation.  If the corporate reform movement has been trying to apply business practices to education for the past decade, it was surely only a matter of time before it would cross from the boardroom to Wall Street for inspiration.

From the boardroom, instead of “principals” of schools, New York City schools now have “CEOs.”  “Accountability” has been the buzzword for calling to account teachers and students who fail to meet “benchmarks,” i.e. test scores, even while the tests and the “cut scores” on them have been changed or moved virtually every year for more than a decade.  “Merit Pay” is repeatedly trotted out as a panacea, even though research, replicated numerous times, shows it doesn’t work in business settings, much less in schools.

With strong support for these corporate reform measures by the USDOE and two successive presidential administrations, there has been plenty of outcry at the ground level, but no institutional counterweight to call the practices, and their practitioners, to account.  So, if one gets away with implementing unproven practices for enough years without being called to account, it is likely one might start to think it’s all right to move the bar to wherever you need it to be to get what you want.  At this point, the corporate reformers want virtually all coursework to move online, where it will be issued as a “Common Core” curriculum, adapted now by 45 states.  Most of those states are waiting for the rollout of the tests in school year 2014-15.  For some reason, New York State decided instead to test its students on a curriculum they have not yet been taught.  There’s a term for that on Wall Street: naked shorting.  That’s when stock traders sell a stock short that they not only don’t own, but have not even borrowed.  In a regular short sale, the shares have to be owned or borrowed. The trader sells them anticipating the cost of the shares will go down, and can be repaid at that lower price within a three-day settlement period.  In naked short selling, the nicety of having an actual share in someone’s actual possession is bypassed.  The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) banned the practice in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, though it is considered to still be used to some degree.

New York State parents can call a “time-out” on next week’s Common Core tests by opting their children out of them.  They should also demand that the New York State legislature (our ersatz SEC for these purposes) force the State Education Department (SED) to deliver an actual curriculum before presuming to test the state’s schoolchildren on it.  Anything less is “naked shorting” our kids. 

During the time-out – preferably of several years duration – SED could try out some other business practices that they might find useful.  These include focus groups with teachers, principals, school boards and parents on the relative merits of the proposed Common Core curriculum.   SED should do small-batch pilot-testing of elements of the curriculum over the course of several years, comparing it to alternative curricula to see if it is an actual improvement.  This would curtail the risk of wholesale curricula change that has resulted, in NYC for instance, in the need for massive remediation by high school students who wish to go to college.  More than a decade of exposure to the inadequate reading and “fuzzy math” programs brought into the city schools a decade ago has caught up with a whole generation of the city’s students.

“Standards” for the Common Core have been issued in New York by the State Education Department, and teachers have been offered professional development and webinars to explain them.  But those measures do not constitute a curriculum, which is arrived at over time, with practice and, one hopes, periodic feedback on the ground to make sure the curriculum is actually working.  In fact, here’s one more business practice that would help: study the schools that ARE working right now – of which we have many – then bring THOSE practices to the schools that are not.  Corporate reformers pride themselves on making rapid decisions.  Parents, teachers and students and taxpayers much prefer that when it comes to education, we take the time to get it right  

By Susan Crawford


Michael Fiorillo said...

As long as we're talking about business terminology (and practices) infesting the schools, let's not forget the "hostile takeover" of public education.

Kim Mohiuddin said...

Or we could consider a curriculum that has been tested for more than 100 years and is proven to produce passionate, successful, life-long learners in nearly every environment--Montessori.

Bonus: In addition to supporting children as they discover and express their brilliance, Montessori involves zero testing and zero or nearly zero homework. Don't brilliant kids deserve to enjoy their family, hobbies, and sufficient sleep for their growing bodies and minds?